Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving!
Written by David Kemper and Michael Piller
Directed by David Carson
Season 3, Episode 7
Production episode 40273-155
Original air date: November 6, 1989
Captain’s Log: Riker, La Forge, and Worf beam down to Galorndon Core, a Federation planet, in response to an unidentified distress call. The planet has vicious magnetic storms that render tricorders useless past five meters and combadges dead. Riker places a beam-out marker — they’ll be beamed up in fourteen minutes, when the window in the storms will close.
They find wreckage from a Romulan ship — which shouldn’t be in Federation space — and La Forge determines that it was blown up after the crash. Worf finds a Romulan survivor, and La Forge finds a hole in the ground, through which he falls, thus keeping him from making it to the beam-out point on time. Reluctantly, Riker and Worf are transported back with the prisoner, leaving La Forge alone down there.
Crusher takes the Romulan to sickbay while Riker reports in. O’Brien can’t find La Forge in the interference, and Picard won’t let Riker beam back down until there’s another window in the storms.
The prisoner is in bad shape, and Crusher says that he needs an infusion of compatible ribosomes in order to survive — and also that he’s suffering synaptic damage that isn’t a result of his injury, and may have been due to exposure to the magnetic storms. Crusher is able to revive the prisoner for a few minutes, and he refuses to provide any information, save that he’s alone. Since that was the only intelligence he was willing to provide, Picard and Riker assume it to be a lie.
The plot further thickens when another communication comes in from the Romulan side of the Neutral Zone — it’s a Romulan ship, and its commander, Tomalak, is trying to contact the crashed ship and says they will be at Galorndon Core in six hours.
Picard contacts Tomalak and makes it clear that crossing the border isn’t acceptable — and that he has a prisoner. At no point does Picard commit to anything, and Tomalak says he’ll be at the Federation border in five hours and expects the Enterprise to rendezvous. He also assures Picard that the crashed ship was a one-person craft, and there are no other survivors.
Worf and Riker insist that there’s no reason to turn the prisoner over, but Picard insists they tread carefully, concerned that Galorndon Core may be remembered the same way as Pearl Harbor and Station Salem One as “the stage for a bloody preamble to war,” which is something a Frenchman from a United Earth would never under any circumstances say, since World War II had already been going on for quite some time when Pearl Harbor happened. Stupid Americentric writers.
Anyhow, Wes gets the bright idea of sending down a neutrino pulse in a probe. La Forge’s VISOR can see it and he can modify the pulse to show he’s found it and they can beam him up. However, when La Forge is on his way to modify it, he’s clubbed on the head by Centurion Bochra, the other survivor of the crash.
Bochra holds La Forge at gunpoint — even after La Forge saves Bochra from a rockslide — and the VISOR detects metabolic changes in both of them. Initially, Bochra is the good patriotic soldier, willing to die for his empire, but La Forge talks him into letting him go modify the beacon so they can be beamed up. Unfortunately, by the time he does, La Forge is now blind, as his nervous system has been sufficiently trashed by the electromagnetic storms that he can’t see out of the VISOR, which means they can’t find the beacon. Bochra, though, doesn’t give up, and convinces La Forge to hook the VISOR to the tricorder so they can find the beacon. With Bochra acting as his eyes, they do it and modify the beacon.
Back on the Enterprise, Crusher informs Worf that he is the only person on board whose ribosomes are compatible with those of the dying Romulan prisoner. But Worf — ever mindful of who was responsible for the death of his parents — refuses to be a donor. Crusher, Riker, and Picard all talk to him, but he is resolute. He even, at Crusher’s instigation, talks to the Romulan — who says in no uncertain terms that he’d rather die than pollute his body with Klingon filth.
The Romulan dies. Tomalak charges across the Neutral Zone, promising that his death will be the first of many. But then a window opens in the storms, and Data is able to detect two life forms. Picard contacts Tomalak with the news that they’ve found a second survivor from the one-person craft. Picard risks lowering the shields, exposing them to possible Romulan fire, to beam La Forge and Bochra up — at which point Tomalak backs down. Bochra (and presumably the other one’s body, though that’s not specified) is beamed back to the ship and Picard says the Enterprise will escort Tomalak back to the border, though nobody told the special effects crew, as the two ships go off in different directions at the end.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: For the first time since “Heart of Glory,” we get to see La Forge’s POV through the VISOR, first when he finds metal fragments (which he then melts and welds via phaser into a pick he can use to climb out of his hole), then again when he sees the neutrino pulse (which would easily be seen by the VISOR in the electromagnetic soup, and which incidentally is a way more accurate use of neutrinos than we got in “A Matter of Honor”), and a third time when he sees a polarity shift in the VISOR.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: “There’s great hostility behind his smile.” Which is pretty damned evident by Andreas Katsulas’s sneer...
The Boy!?: When La Forge sees the neutrino pulse, he immediately guesses (correctly) that Wes came up with it. Apparently, on a ship full of a thousand people, at least a good percentage of whom are engineers, the 17-year-old kid is the only one who could possibly have come up with the notion, which is, frankly, ridiculous. Unless La Forge’s engineering staff is made up entirely of morons (which would explain why he worked alone save for a holographic Leah Brahms in “Booby Trap”...).
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: In a tremendously gutsy move — one that Michael Dorn himself initially objected to — Worf lets the Romulan die. Every convention of television dictates that he’ll have a change of heart by episode’s end, and he doesn’t. Worf isn’t human and shouldn’t stay true to human values. What’s especially impressive is the way Dorn plays it — when he talks to the Romulan, you think he might be wavering. But then the prisoner makes it clear he doesn’t want a Klingon to save him, which only strengthens Worf’s resolve — but he never shares the Romulan’s words with anyone, even though it would help his case. The most important part is his own deeply ingrained feelings on the subject. In Klingon society, vengeance is a right, after all. (We’ll come back to this again in “Reunion” in the fourth season.)
Welcome Aboard: This is the first of four appearances by the late Andreas Katsulas as Tomalak, a role that might have become recurring, but for Katsulas becoming a star on Babylon 5 as G’Kar. While G’Kar was a great character, indeed one of the best characters in SF TV history, I do wonder what might have been done with Tomalak as a regular bad guy.
John Snyder is perfectly adequate as Bochra, who plays Sidney Poitier to La Forge’s Tony Curtis (or his Louis Gossett Jr. to La Forge’s Dennis Quaid, since Enemy Mine is a better comp than The Defiant Ones). His conversion from propaganda spewer to helpful person is a bit too quick, but that’s as much on the script as it is Snyder.
Steven Rankin also really sells the injured Romulan’s loathing for Klingons in only two scenes.
I Believe I Said That: “I never lie when I’ve got sand in my shoes.”
La Forge, making a point.
Trivial Matters: This is the first episode directed by Carson, who will go on to direct many episodes of both TNG and Deep Space Nine, as well as Star Trek: Generations.
The Romulans’ interest in Galorndon Core would be expanded upon in “Unification.”
Make it So: “Then he will die.” The fairly standard enemies-get-together storyline with La Forge and Bochra doesn’t really do a helluva lot. The world wasn’t really crying out for one La Forge-focused episode, much less two in a row.
It’s also the least of the three plots going on here by far. The interplay between Picard and Tomalak is as bog-standard as the one on the planet, but the difference there is, well, the difference between two mediocre actors (LeVar Burton and John Snyder) and two great ones (Sir Patrick Stewart and the late Andreas Katsulas). The interplay between the two ship captains is wonderfully snide and tense and very well played by the two actors, from Stewart’s intensity to Katsulas’s smarminess.
But what makes this episode stand out is Worf’s refusal to donate ribosomes to save the Romulan. One of the things that science fiction does best is use alien species as a contrast. What makes this plotline work is that any other character would be behaving reprehensibly — and you could argue that Worf is also, but by his own lights, he’s doing what he must do. That human values aren’t forced upon the plot makes the plot so much more compelling, and is a refreshing bit of unpredictability in a plot that is otherwise quite predictable.
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido has written many books and comics and you can get autographed copies of several of his novels and comic books directly from him. Autographed copies of the print editions of his fantastical police procedurals SCPD: The Case of the Claw and Dragon Precinct (the latter a trade reissue of the 2004 novel) are also available for preorder. Find out more about Keith at his web site, which is a portal to (among many other things) his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, his blog, and his podcasts, Dead Kitchen Radio, The Chronic Rift, and the Parsec Award-winning HG World.